In this day and age, many documents are being passed around in email that require signing. I myself send many contracts to clients as well as approval letters and such to the same clients. I most of the time send the client a contract or approval letter with my acrobat pro digital signature and lock the document before sending the pdf to them. Im just wondering if these documents that are digitally signed, and sometimes sent back to me digitally signed by my clients, legally binding? Would these documents hold up in court or should I always ask for a hand signed copy be sent back to me.

If the answer here is to send a hand signed copy back to me, would a scanned copy that is emailed or faxed to me good enough or should I push for the client to send me a hard copy via mail?

  • 4
    This feels rather off-topic - it's purely a legal question, not specific to the workplace. The question would apply equally if you were a freelancer, or acting as a private person.
    – sleske
    Apr 13, 2012 at 9:15

3 Answers 3


So long as the jurisdiction in which they are signed accepts digital signatures, and the signature was produced using an accepted secure method, then maybe - consult a lawyer.

Although, this standard may not even be required, if the signature in question is not contested. Just think of all the legal documents all of us have signed, and then faxed to some destination - the receiving end has only a printed copy of a digital representation of that document, and those can be successfully defended legally.

Some people wonder about this because of the supposed ease with which a digital image of a signature can be replicated (it would seem that forging a digital signature would be as easy as copying an image from the internet - it's just a file, right?), but the law is able to handle these situations, the technology has built into it ways to detect if signatures are copied and/or manipulated, and the reality is that very few signatures are ever contested anyway, and so in most cases the technology behind how the signature was created never comes into question.

Many banks, for example (I used to work in the banking industry) have digital signature devices where you write on a screen instead of with an actual pen, and these are completely valid. Federal law (in the United States at least) also allows a digital copy of a paper check to be considered equally valid vs. the paper equivalent, due to sufficient mechanisms that allow for the origin and validity of said image to be verified, should it be contested (again, very few of them, vs. the total number of checks processed, are ever contested anyway so this is often a non-issue).

Finally, digital signatures that are not representations of written signatures, but instead simply a typed name, combined with some secret only the actual signee would know (a PIN for example - I digitally sign my Federal tax return this way every year) serve to prove the authenticity of a digital signature. There are also many technologies within the cryptography community that are focused on digital signatures, and which come with methods for detecting forgery and manipulation.

If perhaps you're wondering whether a physical signature is more difficult to forge than a digital one (and I realize that I'm probably going way past the original scope of your question at this point), that's simply not the case.

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    Digital signatures actually include a checksum over the document contents, so they become invalid if the document is altered. Jul 25, 2014 at 14:13

The governing statute in the US is the ESIGN ACT (text of statute). Generally, courts have treated the situation as "if both parties treat it as a signature, then so will we" (section 1-303 of the UCC calls this "course of performance, course of dealing and usage of trade").

I used to work for a company where we dealt with the signatures and attestations; ESIGN is a bit complicated as the supporting regulations also require things like the electronic documents be readable and provable for at least 10 years. PDF/A is an attempt to make PDF documents suitable for long-term archival.


The US government accepts digital signatures on tax returns (Enter your name, SSN, and a PIN). I assume the IRS considers that a binding signature.

Your mileage (and jurisdiction) may vary...

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